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flaw in Route des Grandes Alpes
Posted: 22 October 2008 05:34 PM  
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Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

The “Route des Grandes Alpes” [official website] goes on paved roads over many of the high passes between the Mediterranean Sea and Lac Leman / Lake Geneva. There’s obvious signs for it on the mountain roads, so it’s fairly straightforward to follow—for car drivers and motorcyclists and cyclists who want a tour thru the French Alps. I don’t know how French cycle-tourists usually ride it, but lots of English-speaking cyclists tend to follow the official route, or minor variations (such as substituting Mont-Cenis for Galibier).

Flaw—the critical flaw is in the northern end, where the road route goes over Saisies > Aravis > Colombiere > Gets and finishes at Thonon-les-Bains. So the big problem is that it never gets anywhere near Mont Blanc. The only justification for this I can think of is that the official route designers did not want part of the route to go thru Switzerland. But the consequence is that the grandest mountain views of France get lost. How can you claim to have toured the “Grandes Alpes” without close views of Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles de Chamonix?

I finished riding every kilometer from Sea to Lac over the high passes a couple years ago. Actually for most of it I rode single-day loop routes (not a continuous multi-day traverse), so I rode over roughly twice as many passes [see map] as are on the official route.

But I was disappointed by the northern section over Gets to Evians, because it didn’t have much good mountain views (even of the most dramatic Chablais peaks, let alone the Massif du Mont Blanc). So I thought about how to ride some alternate route that with mountain views more “grand”. And I then I rode it, and I liked it much better than the nothern stage of the official Route des Grandes Alpes.

“grander” northern section, basic idea (riding north-bound) is after riding over Col de la Colombiere, from Sallanches take the secondary road thru Passy + Servoz to les Houches and Chamonix, then over Col del Montets to Vallorcine + Chatelard (optionally also Gietroz + Finhaut) and over Col de la Forclaz to Martigny. Then northwest in the Rhone valley to Monthey, then climb some lesser-known roads (south of the main road) up to Pas de Morgins, and finish at Evian-les-Bains. More details in this report.

How it’s better:
* much closer views of Mont Blanc + Aiguilles de Chamonix + Aig Verte from various angles.
* pleasant riding thru Vallorcine.
* views of the Glacier du Trient.
* big view over the Rhone valley on descent to Martigny.
* close views of the Dents du Midi on climb up east side of Pas de Morgins.
* views of the dramatic la Dent d’Oche and other interesting high peaks from west of the Pas de Morgins.
* (optionally) some rather pretty farm country if take longer roads more south + west from the obvious D21 road to Evian.
* views of Lac Leman descending to Evian thru the “balcons” are way better than views of the lake descending the gorge from Gets to Thonon-les-Bains.
* I think the waterfront of Evian-les-Bains is prettier than Thonon.

There’s lots of it I’ll gladly do again as single-day rides—some ideas in that report.

I’d be glad for lots more suggestions about fun + pretty riding on the roads around that area.


Posted: 23 October 2008 07:38 PM   [ # 1 ]  
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Total Posts:  139
Joined  2005-05-06

I understand why you want to ride into Chamonix for the views of Mt Blanc, personally I don’t like the traffic on that road much. I think that if you had ridden over the Joux Plan via Samoens you would not feel the same anti climax at the end of the trip. Here you’ll get your views of Mt Blanc and Mt Buet and you’ll remember the words of Lance Armstrong “My worst day on a bike” after dropping steeply into Morzine I suspect most would be happy to coast down the road to Thonon and then Evian, if you want a grander finish to the trip turn right after St Jean d’Aulps, over the Col du Corbier descend into the Val d’Abondance and climb up from Vacheresse to the plateau at St Paul, you will then be greeted by views of Lac Leman 500m below and a great descent to Evian.


Posted: 24 October 2008 03:52 PM   [ # 2 ]  
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Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

Yes those sound like very good ideas: riding over Joux Plane and Corbier. And much shorter distance than my alternate route. I’ll have to try riding those. Sounds like a simpler fix to the “flaw” I was feeling. I just added those ideas to my detailed report—so thanks a lot.

Regarding traffic thru Chamonix, thanks for drawing attention to that.
I don’t have much problem with the non-primary roads thru Servoz + Vaudagne to Les Houches and then west of the main road going into Chamonix from the south. But then north thru Argentiere to the Col des Montets, I agree there’s more traffic on some road sections which are not wide (and possibly some limited visibility curves?). Something that might help with the final curves up to the Col des Montets is the opening of the Tunnel des Montets.

Continuing north thru Vallorcine + the frontier at Chatelard + over Col de la Forclaz, my memory is that the road seems a little wider—more like lots of other roads included in the Route des Grandes Alpes, though perhaps more drivers tend to drive it at higher speeds than lots of other mountain roads (though I doubt there’s a shortage of high-speed drivers on the road thru les Gets to Thonon-les-Bains). I might not want to ride it at a busy time, but mid-week on non-peak-holiday season seemed OK for me.
Between Chatelard and Martigny, the main road road can be avoided completely by riding (steep) up thru Gietroz to Finhaut, then the dirt road in the Gorges du Trient down to le Tretien and then (again paved) thru Salvan to Martigny.

And I take your point about the seriousness of climbing over the Col de Joux Plane. One report says it has a total vertical of 1000 meters, finishing with about 400 meters at steepness around 9-10% grade. Sounds at least as hard as any other climb on the normal Route des Grandes Alpes - (and I suspect harder than climbing thru Servoz + Vaudagne + Chamonix over Col des Montets).


[ Edited: 24 October 2008 05:01 PM by KenR]
Posted: 24 October 2008 08:56 PM   [ # 3 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

I’m not sure the views of Mont Blanc from Col de Joux Plane are going to satisfy me.

I took a further look at the map, and I’m measuring Joux Plane as around 32 km from Mont Blanc.

But I remember from riding other passes on the Route des Grandes Alpes that I had other views which were closer than that, and I wasn’t that satisfied. Like I remember seeing MB while climbing the southeast side of Col des Aravis, and I think that’s about 28 km from MB, and climbing from Hauteluce up the south side of Col des Saisies I remember seeing MB, and now I’m measuring that as only 25 km away, and I remember feeling that I really wished I were seeing it closer.

What was a satisfying view of Mont Blanc for me:
riding on the Combloux road between Sallanches and Megeve—about 9 km away.
also from Col du Joly—which I haven’t ridden over (yet—so far I’ve been deterred by the lack of asphalt).

On the other hand, seeing le Mont Buet close up sounds pretty good.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve just been “spoiled” by riding too much on spectacular roads.


[ Edited: 24 October 2008 09:10 PM by KenR]
Posted: 23 June 2009 08:18 PM   [ # 4 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

Found another viewpoint of Mont Blanc, and failed to reach one previously suggested.

Failure: back in April I tried to drive up to Col du Joux Plane from Samoens after a day of skiing, but the road wasn’t open yet.
Success: in May I went to the Lac d’Emosson and found it had a great view of the northern Mont Blanc peaks + glaciers - [ photos on a cloudy day ] similar angle but closer and less obstructed than from Joux Plane. Riding on the asphalt-surface trail above the dam is also interesting [ photos ] - (and there are some spring ski-touring possibilities, I saw some ski tracks).

The dam of Emosson is above Finhaut in Switzerland (just across the France frontier)—a straightforward side-trip from the “grander” route I’ve proposed thru Chamonix + Martigny.

This got me thinking about other points for a grand view of Mont Blanc from an asphalt-surface road:

* Col du Joly from Hauteluce or Beaufort is very close up to MB - (? might try also riding the dirt road on its east side?)

* Combloux, on the old road up from Sallanches. (roughly as close as Col du Joly, different angle, perhaps easier to connect into a larger tour on paved roads.

* Plaine-Joux (above Passy and Servoz)—haven’t been up to that point yet, but seems like the higher I’ve gotten around there, the better the view gets.

* Col du Joux-Plane : Or is there a much better viewpoint on Pointe de Chamoissiere, hiking above the Col?

* Col du Pre northeast side near Lac de Roselend is nice to ride to for reasons other than its view of MB. (a few weeks ago Sharon and I really enjoyed combining it with Cormet de Roselend.)

* Arc 2000 station, though not very close, sees a classic profile of the south side of MB. (not sure I’d want to cycle up that long road—I drove there for a ski tour after the lifts were closed).

* Italy: road northeast from Entreves toward Col du Grand Ferret (close under the Grandes Jorasses + Mont Dolent, also Mont Blanc and a profile of the Aig Noire de Pueterey)

* Italy: southwest from Morgex toward Colle San Carlo. Should be a good spot to see the wild southeast face of Mont Blanc. (I found that the obvious road up the Val Veny southwest from Courmayeur was too close, and the main road from Pre-St-Didier to la Thuile is too much in the trees.)


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